Hanukkah event makes Jewish students feel seen

USC Chabad, USC Hillel and the USC Casden Institute hold special Hanukkah event with President Folt in attendance

A photo of the students in attendance of the Hanukkah event near Tommy Trojan.

USC Chabad, USC Hillel and the USC Casden Institute kicked off the holiday season with a special Hanukkah celebration alongside President Carol Folt Wednesday. The Jewish organizations planned special activities, providing students with an introduction to their culture.

The event celebrated the fourth night of Hanukkah and was held in front of Tommy Trojan. Trojans, Jewish leaders, and students from the Hillel Hebrew Academy gathered and ate traditional Jewish foods like latkes and sufganiyot (a jelly donut), watched a live carving of an ice sculpture of a menorah, and sang Jewish songs to celebrate Hanukkah. The Trojan Marching Band was also in attendance, performing a medley of Jewish songs like “Song for Hanukkah” and “Dreidel Dreidel.”

“The university makes such an incredible effort to create a warm and welcoming, friendly environment for all of its students, and has become an incredible example of thriving Jewish life on campus,” said director of USC Hillel Runya Wagner, adding that, “Tommy here may be more of a representation of what the Jews fought against on Hanukkah, but tonight he is celebrating here with us too.”

President Folt attended the celebration to support USC’s Jewish community. She was given a menorah for her support and was entrusted with lighting the shamash candle, the ninth candle of the menorah that is used to light the other candles.

“[Hanukkah] is the festival of light. It celebrates light and hope after darkness, and it is just an affirming moment for all of us. So I feel privileged to be here and to be able to be part of the ceremony,” President Folt said in a statement to Annenberg Media.

Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration that celebrates the recovery of Jerusalem from the Greeks who sought to eradicate Judaism. Often called the “festival of lights,” Hanukkah celebrations involve lighting the menorah with each candle representing a day.

“To be able to not have to hide anything but be able to be on campus, be loud and proud about my Jewish identity and like my love for Judaism and our holidays, it really means everything to be able to do that,” Abigail Yosain, a senior studying communications said.

Taking place in the middle of campus, Jewish student organizations hope to provide visibility for the Jewish population who make up 10% of the USC population. Although the event is for Hanukkah, all students were encouraged to attend.

“The opportunity to express joy and pride in the season in our traditions and heritage really adds to a student’s experience and student’s feeling of belonging on their campus,” Rabbi Dov said.

Because the holiday falls within the school calendar, many students were unable to celebrate with family, but were grateful for the collaboration between the Chabad and Hillel organizations with the Casden Center for providing them with special traditions.

“Having Hanukkah be in my college is really important to me,” freshman theatre major Roy Gantz said.  “It makes me feel at home, like a home away from home because I don’t live close to here and it makes you feel represented on campus. It makes me feel like we have a voice and we’re appreciated as Jews.”

Student organizations are holding various other celebrations throughout the eight days of Hanukkah to unite students and spread awareness of Jewish culture.

“I think this week of Hanukkah celebrations is yet another testament to the unity of our Jewish community and us, the idea that we are joined by such a common bond and then we can celebrate together in different, in different places all week long,” director of USC Hillel Dave Cohen said.